Researchers at Schepens Eye Research Institute have developed a new technique that can improve the ability of people with low vision to see and enjoy watching television.
The technique, developed by Dr. Eli Peli, the Institute's low vision expert, the Moakley Scholar in Aging Eye Research, and a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, allows visually impaired people to enhance the contrast of images on their digital televisions.
The study demonstrates that patients with macular degeneration prefer watching TV with this contrast enhancement and that the level of enhancement they choose depends on how much vision they have lost with their disease.
"We knew it was time to address the changing technology," Peli said.
With the help of 'decoder' that makes digital television images possible, the researchers were able to make a simple change that could give every digital TV the contrast enhancing potential for the benefit of the visually impaired.
"The same modification could easily be made to new HDTVs, and digital cable set top boxes," said Matthew Fullerton, the paper's first author, and a student of electronic engineering from the University of York in England,
who is currently working on his Master's degree in Peli's lab.
In order to test the new technology, the researchers presented eight digital videos to 24 subjects with vision impairment and six with normal vision.
Each patient was given a remote control, which allowed him/her to increase or decrease the contrast of the image. Patients manipulated over-enhanced and blurry images for the greatest clarity.
The researchers found that even subjects with normal sight selected some enhancement and that the amount of enhancement selected by those with visual problems varied depending upon the level of contrast sensitivity loss they experienced due to their disease.
The findings therefore showed that the device was both usable and useful to the subjects, even those without vision problems.
Peli is now working with Analog Devices Inc. to develop a prototype chip that could be included in all future generations of digital television.
"The technology we created is quite simple and can easily and cheaply be incorporated into even the newest technologies for television and Internet video," he added.
Peli further said he believes that as the population ages, this technology will be used by more and more of those whose eyes are going through a normal change as they get older as well as those more severely impaired.
A study in the edition of the Journal of the Optical Society of America published online in November 2007 and issued in print in January 2008.